Ever since the boom in popularity of the graphic novel, it seems to be a given that artists are also excellent writers, churning out literary stories while putting down depictions of visual splendor. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and the expectation only increases the pressure on up-and-coming creators straight out of art school. However, in The Last Tiger On Earth, his debut graphic novel, Michaël Olbrechts succeeds in marrying art and story into an entertaining semi-autobiographic tale about family and an ancestral past weighed down by a colonial burden.
On a hot summer day in 1996, a red Volvo speeds along the highways of Belgium towards the Netherlands. On a boiling back seat, three brothers and a sister are entertained with stories about the grandmother they are going to visit. Stories are told and questions are asked, flinging the family back to the start of the 20th century, Java (Indonesia) and a villa in the middle of the jungle…
As opposed to Shamisa Debroey – another published graduate – Michaël Olbrechts hasn’t chosen the graphic novel as a catharsis, but prefers to delve into his own family history while keeping an emotional distance. The result is a rather tragic family chronicle that is infused with heart, laughter and drama.
Recounting the final days of colonialism and the uprising of the Indonesian people for self-government in flashback through the eyes of an old woman, as told by her son driving his kids to see their grandma, proves to be the perfect framework for a lighter look on these serious matters. Olbrechts succeeds in sticking to the grandmother’s tale without invoking politics or events on a grander scale; this is not that kind of book.
His brush work is fluid, cartoony and open, with a rough line. It’s a rather bright style, with good character work, and the switches between the present and the past are highlighted with a difference in coloring: the road trip is characterised by lots of red, yellow and orange, while the flashbacks are in tinted browns.
In his first graphic novel, Michaël Olbrechts shows promise on both the visual and the story fronts. The Last Tiger On Earth is an easygoing graphic novel that combines history and relationships across the generations without becoming bogged down by the burdens of yesteryear.
The Last Tiger on Earth by Michaël Olbrechts is published in Dutch by Oogachtend. It is an oversized full-colour softcover counting 88 pages. It retails for €19.
Dieter VDO Parties at the Belgium
Dieter VDO’s first graphic novel, Snow, a psychedelic trip in the head-space of its creator, was recently showcased in this column. Relaunched comics portal Pulpdeluxe is currently serialising another wonderful phantasmagoric comic strip by the artist, one of Belgium’s most promising comic talents – and it’s even in English! So treat yourselves to five minutes of shockploitation wonderment!